We’re into the second week of Tennessee’s fall camp, and while there’s several areas of concern for a team that finished 3-7 last year, it’s the QB competition that’s likely to garner the most attention. The team’s first scrimmage is Thursday, when all eyes will be on each side’s signal quarterback.
The QB room’s been broken down and pieced back together since last season — with sophomores Brian Maurer and Harrison Bailey as the only two members left from the Jeremy Pruitt tenure. Tennessee went through spring practice with Maurer, Bailey, UVA transfer Hendon Hooker and Kaidon Salter, but soon after, Heupel kicked off Salter and added another transfer in former Michigan Wolverine Joe Milton.
Though Milton (who is from Pahokee, FL, the same town as former Vol Nu’Keese Richardson) lost the starting gig at Michigan last year and posted pretty pedestrian numbers (five starts, six games, 57-percent accuracy, 7.6 yards per-attempt, four TDs and four INTs), I don’t think Heupel would’ve added a player that late in the process if he wasn’t relatively confident in that player’s chance to contribute. It seems like Milton’s performing well in practice so far, per various practice reports, but there’s still nearly a month left before Tennessee’s first game, and we haven’t seen him in live-game action yet.
For some insight into what Vol fans can expect from Milton, I enlisted the help of the Anthony Broome, who’s watched the 6-5, 245-ish QB since 2018 and covers the Wolverines at Maize n Brew, SB Nation’s Michigan site.
- Milton looks big and seems to move pretty well. He was a 4-star out of high school, and Michigan has, well, struggled to find good quarterbacks. Big picture: why didn’t it work out?
Milton has everything you want in a raw quarterback prospect. He’s a good leader that people seem to rally behind. He has the physique of a Cam Newton or Josh Allen. He has the arm to throw a pigskin a quarter mile. I think the biggest thing that worked against him was his poor accuracy. He missed a good amount of throws and then at some point in the season got injured. He didn’t have much help with protection and playcalling, but the guy we saw Week 1 against Minnesota never appeared again. The second Michigan made a QB change, they started to move the ball more consistently. I don’t think he does the little things well enough despite oozing with talent.
- It’s early in camp, but folks around here are raving about Milton’s arm. That’s great — but having a cannon doesn’t do much good if the QB can’t place the ball, and a lot of times guys with big arms struggle to hit their spots. Is that the case with Milton? Is he inaccurate?
Dating back to high school days, the knock on Milton has always been that he threw too much of a fastball and did not put enough arc or touch on many of his throws. He *can* do this, but he was super inconsistent. I still think the talent is there for him to improve here because I was not super fond of the quarterback coaching he got in Ann Arbor.
- How much of Milton’s success, or lack thereof, was mitigated by stuff outside his control? E.g., Injuries (to himself or players around him), system fit, lack of playmakers, etc.
In the lone game where Michigan’s offense looked great last year, Michigan was able to run the football. That included Milton being involved in the QB run game. Then, everything fell apart last season. For him to be successful, everything else around him has to be operational and that just was never the case after the first gamer last season.
I invited RTT Twitter followers to pose some questions, too. Dangerous —I know.
- @CraigGrafx: Michigan fans are warning us to not get caught up in the preseason hype because Milton will disappoint during the year. Was the hype he faced at Michigan unfair, and what caused UM fans to turn on him like they did?
Milton certainly fell victim to the hype train. Fans started to refer to him as the next Cam Newton and his teammates raved about how great he looked in practices. That created an insanely impossible bar to live up to, but I don’t think that bothered him. I would just say that if the practice reports out of Knoxville are good, be cautiously optimistic instead of completely bought in.
- @Daktronic1: Do you think Milton was held back by Harbaugh to some degree?
Do I believe that Milton was held back by Harbaugh? No. Do I believe that Michigan is held back by Harbaugh’s previous QB evaluations. I do. For the first five years he was at Michigan, he took chances on raw guys with traits they felt could develop into NFLers. None of that happened, and not a single quarterback Harbaugh recruited until 2019 finished his career on the roster. They’ve whiffed and developed poorly there. Milton was the rawest of the bunch and it’s unfortunate he didn’t get the coaching he should have.
- @sawyerteesmith: Does his upside outweigh his downside?
For someone to take a shot on in the transfer portal, Milton’s upside is still worth it. We figured he might transfer after how last season went and always thought that UCF might have been a good fit for the Orlando-area native, so the fact that he wound up with Josh Heupel is interesting and I think a good fit. I thought he might go to a Group of 5 school, but I am super interested in seeing how he fits at Tennessee. I am rooting for him.
Thanks to Anthony for helping out here. What about y’all? Who do you think starts for Tennessee on September 2nd against Bowling Green?